Saints Peter and Paul

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. At one level, celebrating the two saints together may seem strange; we know there was a certain amount of tension between the two of them at times. However, if one understands the tension between them as reflective of a necessary and dynamic tension that is an inherent part of the Church, a joint celebration of the two makes more sense.

In his book, What is the Point of Being Christian, about which I’ve written before, Timothy Radcliffe, OP, talks about the tension reflected in the Last Supper (specifically, the difference between the bread given just to the disciples and the blood “poured out for many”) between “the gathering into communion of these disciples, Jesus’ close and intimate friends, and the reaching out to all, for the fullness of the Kingdom.” He identifies this as the tension between Peter and Paul.

Peter had been called by Jesus to belong to a community that was in its origins Jewish. Jesus may have reached out to foreigners at times but the inner circle, the apostles, were all Jewish and sent, in the beginning, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This was an understanding of the community which, for many of the first disciples, it would have been unimaginable that one might question. But the Church had hardly been founded when Paul’s reaching out to the Gentiles seemed to subvert the core of its very identity.

Radcliffe speaks of a centrifugal and a centripetal force “whose equilibrium had to be maintained if the Church was to avoid becoming either just another Jewish sect on the one hand, or losing continuity wtih its founder on the other.” The two forces, he suggests, are represented by Peter and Paul, whose dying together in Rome may be viewed as symbolic of the Church’s ability to hang on to the dynamic tension.

Happy Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.


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